Crime & Courts

Clyburn: FBI should clear gun purchasers before store sale to prevent tragedies

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., has filed a bill that would require that any purchaser of a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer get a clear OK from the FBI before the sale can take place.

Under current gun laws, the alleged killer of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church last month was able to buy a gun from Shooter’s Choice gun store in West Columbia even though he had a drug charge in his record that, had the FBI known about it, it would have disqualified Roof from the purchase.

When the FBI didn’t weigh in within the required three days, Roof’s sale went through.

“The Background Check Completion Act will guarantee that no gun is sold by a licensed dealer until a background check is completed,” Clyburn said, who wants to close what he says is a loophole that allows dangerous, unstable people to buy weapons at gun stores.

When someone tries to buy a gun at a licensed firearms dealer, the dealer has that person fill out a form with various background questions. Then the dealer sends the form to the FBI, which searches various law enforcement databases to see if a person is qualified or not to buy a gun.

Most would-be gun purchases are approved or disapproved electronically within a matter of minutes. But in a small percentage of cases, the FBI is not able to immediately determine whether a person is qualified to buy a gun. In those cases, the FBI notifies the gun store to delay the purchase.

If the FBI can’t complete its records search in three days, a store is free to sell the gun. In the case of accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, the FBI failed to do the check in three days. Thus, Shooter’s Choice was able to sell Roof the .45 caliber Glock pistol believed to have been used in the June 17 Charleston killings.

Many stores that sell guns have already decided not to sell guns to people unless the FBI clears them. Wal-Mart, for example, won’t sell guns to people who haven’t passed an FBI background check, Clyburn said.

Currently, no background checks are required on people who buy guns at gun shows. Clyburn’s bill would only apply to licensed dealers. The gun rights lobby has long opposed background checks at gun shows.

Under current gun laws, the types of people the FBI will disapprove for a gun purchase include people convicted of a felony, fugitives, adjudicated mentally ill people, persons convicted of domestic violence and people who are users of illegal drugs.

In Roof’s case, a Columbia police report existed that said Roof had been arrested for possession of illegal drugs shortly before he bought a gun.